Republicans are pushing toward Senate approval of legislation demolishing President Barack Obama's signature health care law and halting Planned Parenthood's federal money, setting up a veto fight the GOP knows it will lose but thinks will delight conservative voters.
The White House promised a veto Wednesday, saying the bill would "take away critical benefits and health care coverage" from families. With Republicans lacking the two-thirds House and Senate majorities needed for a successful override, the measure became a political messaging battlefield as both parties looked toward the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.
"Obamacare is a direct attack on the middle class of our country. It's a partisan law that puts ideology before people, that hurts many of the very Americans it was supposed to help," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., using the nickname for a statute that Republicans have uniformly opposed since Obama began pushing it through Congress six years ago.
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Lawmakers have voted dozens of times to repeal all or parts of the health care overhaul. If the House, as expected, sends this bill to Obama, it would be the first to reach the White House and get vetoed. Republicans say such a scenario would highlight GOP priorities for voters.
Republicans fault the law for rising health care premiums and deductibles and a diminished choice of insurance providers in some markets. On Wednesday, government officials said health care spending grew last year at 5.3 percent, in part because of the health law's coverage expansion, the steepest climb since Obama took office.
With GOP leaders insisting they had the votes they'd need, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he'd support the bill, saying it "lays the groundwork for Obamacare to be erased from the books altogether." He and rival GOP presidential candidates Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas threatened in October to oppose the legislation if it didn't go further than a similar House-passed version.
GOP lawmakers suggested the bill could serve as a bridge to a new Republican health care law. Though Obama's overhaul was enacted five years ago and gets tepid support in public opinion polls, GOP members of Congress have yet to produce a detailed proposal to replace it.
Democrats say repeal would destroy a program that has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by around 16 million, let families' policies cover children until age 26 and guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing illnesses.
Democrats are pushing a doomed effort to stop the cuts to Planned Parenthood. Less than a week after a gunman killed three people at one of the group's Colorado clinics, the proposal would also provide $1 billion for safety at women's clinics.
"I've heard from so many women and men who are tired of women's health being undermined, threatened, and used as a political football here in Washington," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said the GOP bill was "not some attack on women's health. This is millions of voices rising up around the nation and saying, 'We're better than this.' "
Planned Parenthood, a long-time target of anti-abortion forces, has come under fire after secretly recorded videos showed group officials discussing their provision of fetal tissue to scientists. The organization says it conducts such transactions legally.
Planned Parenthood gets $450 million of its $1.3 billion annual budget from federal taxpayers, mostly reimbursements for treating Medicaid patients. Federal dollars cannot be used for abortions except for rare exceptions.
The overall GOP bill headed to the Senate would effectively defang the health law's requirements for individual and employer-provided coverage by annulling the fines that enforce them.
It would terminate the law's expansion of Medicaid to cover additional lower-earning people and the federal subsidies it offers people buying policies in insurance marketplaces. It would also annul tax increases imposed to cover the law's costs, including levies on the income of higher-earning people, medical devices, costly insurance policies and tanning salons.
The elimination of the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for health coverage would be delayed for two years. That might help GOP senators facing tight re-election races next year in some of the 30 states that have expanded Medicaid, including Illinois, Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
Republicans wrapped the measure in a filibuster-proof process that requires just 51 votes for Senate passage, not the 60 usually required to end stalling tactics. The GOP controls the chamber by 54-46.